2018-07-18 / Restaurant of the Week

Donovan’s Pub

Donovan’s Pub holds landmark status in Woodside, and it’s no wonder. Famous for its hamburgers and signature dishes, it also vibrates with a kind of positive energy that you can actually feel. Donovan’s is over half a century old while its two co-owners, Dan Connor and Jimmy Jacobson, are slightly younger. Brothers-in-law, each with a career and a full-time job, they are very busy guys. Yet when Joe Donovan, the original owner, decided in 2013 that it was time to retire and sell the place, they knew in their hearts that they had to buy it.

Jimmy had worked at Donovan’s, first in his teens as a busboy, and later as a bartender. He loved the people, the ambiance, the way he was treated as an employee, and he couldn’t bear the thought of seeing Donovan’s taken over by someone who would rob it of its soul. At the same time, he foresaw that he and Dan could combine their individual talents with their shared desire to keep Donovan’s alive and also make it their own. Dan agreed that, as the new owners, their mission would be “to maintain the charm that’s always been there but bring in some new energy.” And this they have certainly done.

Beginning with the menu, customers can still find all their favorite traditional dishes, but Dan likes to cook, and he has gradually been adding in some of his own recipes. Jimmy, meanwhile, has enhanced the cocktails menu with several new martinis and other original creations. Finally last year, a friend and fellow restaurateur, Carlos Chauca, came on board with one of his best cooks, Raoul, and some of their own ideas. Carlos’ wife Lynn is a baker and on weekends she brings over some of her specialty desserts. In effect, this is a team that has been able to honor tradition, infuse it with new life, and continue to grow.

For our meal, my guest and I were seated in the main dining room at a candlelit table facing the fireplace where we literally sampled 10 different dishes, and where our server, Ann Marie, and busboy, Marco, did an incredibly efficient job of serving and clearing. Thanks so much, you two.

We started with a bowl of French onion soup, a Donovan’s favorite that has a subtle sweetness from the onions and a mixture of textures and flavors created by chunks of bread and cheese. Then came three outstanding appetizers: baked clams (Donovans’ secret recipe), stuffed mushrooms (with bread crumbs, garlic, herbs and white wine sauce) and broiled asparagus (sprinkled lightly with parmesan and very fresh), all delectable.

We tasted five entrées: the Shepherd’s Pie (with a meaty sauce, peas, carrots, and a delicious potato crust, my favorite), the homemade lobster ravioli (served al dente, my guest’s favorite), the mac ‘n cheese (Dan’s recipe and truly the best I’ve ever tasted), the fillet of sole with julienne vegetables (Ann Marie’s favorite), and of course, one of those much talked about hamburgers. Donovan’s offers beef, turkey and veggie burgers, all served with a choice of onion rings, steak fries, or sweet potato fries, and they also offer a variety of toppings. We ordered ours with Swiss cheese, and it came to us, juicy and delicious, medium rare just as we had asked.

Last of all, we had a plate of Dan’s dough-nots for dessert (they’re sort of donuts and sort of not), which were drizzled in chocolate, and tasted light and fluffy. What a great ending to a most extravagant feast!

While Donovans’ menu strikes a good balance between tradition and innovation, there are other ways in which Dan and Jimmy are bringing together the old and the new. The staff at Donovan’s has always been well-treated and respected. That’s why some employees have been with them for many years. And that has not changed. “I have waitresses who were here when I was a busboy,” Jimmy told us. Other employees have brought in family members, and to me, all of this matters because it says something important about the essence of Donovan’s Pub. We can sense that it has heart and that makes us glad to be there.

With regard to the original design and décor of Donovan’s, Dan and Jimmy have kept it almost as it was but with a few modifications. Jimmy is an artist, and some of his paintings are hanging in the back rooms. One room has been designated a Tribute Room for military veterans, police officers, and others who serve the community. Lastly, the bar has undergone some minor transformations, but I’m going to keep those a mystery and see if you can figure out what they are.

Donovan’s Pub has music on Friday and Saturday nights, a comedy hour every few months on a Thursday night, and other entertainment like Learn to Paint nights. You can reserve the library for private parties or have Donovan’s cater your outside event. Located at 57-24 Roosevelt Ave. in Woodside, Donovan’s Pub is super easy to find. It is open Sunday through Thursday from 11:30 AM until midnight, and Friday and Saturday from 11:30 AM until 1:00 AM. The phone number to call is 718-429-9339. The website address is www.donovansny.com. See you there!

57-24 Roosevelt Avenue
Woodside  718.429.9339


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